“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” - Chuang- Tzu
What bothered Ballard the most about being a doll was that he didn’t feel like one. If Topher hadn't been grinning self-consciously at his bedside when he woke up, he could have gone on with the rest of his life thinking he'd just woken from a standard issue coma. But Topher was trying out this whole ethics thing lately, just for kicks, and explained how he'd had to scrub out Ballard's brain and pour his mind back into it.
"Just like it was! Really! Though I may have had to squish a few things to make it all fit. Who knew you had so much stuff in there?" So when Ballard moved out of recovery, it was with the knowledge that he was now a pretender in his own skin.
Knowing the Dollhouse, it was likely that they’d snuck in a couple of upgrades while they did the job. Ballard had thrown Topher up against a wall, but he swore on his stack of Green Lantern comics (#17-34, first print run) that he had added nothing, that Ballard would not suddenly find himself belting Nessun Dorma in the shower. But Ballard still watched himself warily in the mirror, half expecting his reflection to wink at him.
He tried poking at his memories, searching for any seams where Topher may have stitched things together imperfectly. Everything seemed to be in place: a preference for clove toothpaste? Check. Right shoe before left? Check. Hazelnut creamer? Still tasted like crap.
But was he comparing his present self to what he remembered, or what he remembered he remembered? Did some glitch in the recording process make him think it was right-shoe-before-left when it had always been left-shoe-before-right? It's not like he ever video-taped himself putting on shoes so he could look it up and check.
He found himself hovering in the imprinting room, wondering how to ask Topher a question he couldn't even put into words. Finally he gestured vaguely at the dolls doing Tai Chi on the main floor.
"Do you think they know they're missing something?"
"Missing what?" Topher asks without a pause as he bounced around the room fiddling with instruments.
"Well, whatever makes...us...not like them."
"Can't say. Echo notwithstanding, they aren't big on the nuanced existential conversations."
"Well, can't you ask them somehow?"
"That, my querulous friend, would require coming up with interview questions that don't introduce response bias. Which, as much as I am loathe to admit it, is not something I'm any good at. If I were, I'd be a social scientist, not a cognitive neurobiologist."
Ballard kept watching the dolls meander across the great room, happy as ambulatory clams. Zephyr and Delta came face-to-face and had a happy-faced conversation. Ballard wondered what their conversation was about.
Zephyr! I am wearing my shoes today.
That's nice Delta! I put my right shoe on before my left shoe.
I wear my left shoe before my right shoe. Good bye!
He shuddered. Then he mentally reviewed all the conversations he'd had that day for his perceived maturity level. When he turned around, he saw Ivy watching him cautiously. She quickly bent her head to her computer screen.
"It’s swell that you feel like lurking in my office ’cause it’s the happening hot spot, but you're disrupting my flow," Topher pushed past him to switch plugs on an overextended power strip. "Can't you go annoy Boyd for a bit?"
Ballard held up his hands and backed out of the room. He barely made it to the stairs when Ivy came after him.
"Pssst!" she waved. Ballard waited. For all the time they spent in the same workplace, this was their first one-on-one conversation. Or at least that's what he thought. God, they weren't involved, were they?
But Ivy didn't look like she had a history with him. She looked awkward, but leaning forward like she had a secret.
"Turing Test," she said.
"It's long and complicated, but suppose you're having an IM conversation with someone who's either a human or an AI computer, but you don't know which one it is, and you keep asking questions to trip it up in case it is an AI, but it's been days and you still can't tell? Then it really makes no difference whether you're talking to a human or an AI. Or put another way, the AI is as much of a person as a human is!"
Ballard clung to the part of this discussion that made sense to him. "A computer isn't a human," he said patiently.
"No, but a human is a computer." Ivy paused as if to see if he was getting her. "Okay, let's say you see a white bird with a yellow beak that says 'quack'. What do you call it?"
Ivy was a smart woman, so this had to be a trick question.
"Mr. Ballard?" she asked.
"A...duck?" He hoped he sounded more sure than he felt.
"Exactly!" She grinned broadly and patted his arm. "I hope that makes you feel better." She turned back to the imprint room with an air of satisfaction.
Battling confusion, Ballard fled to the men's room. He watched his hands turn the faucet on, catch the streaming water, pump the soap dispenser, and lather the foam before rinsing it away. He cautiously looked at the mirror. His reflection wasn't winking or smirking at him, and that gave him a bit of courage. He glared at himself.
"Where were you on the night of February the 16th, 1997?"
Hell if I know, he thought. You think I keep track of this shit?
Ivy had sounded like she had the answers for him, but what sense was there in computers that sounded human and ducks that sounded like themselves? Unless...
Ballard straightened up. His reflection obeyed him, adjusting its shoulders and tilting its chin up. His body and his mind worked the way he thought he remembered. In the absence of evidence that his pre-treatment self had been any different, it seemed reasonable to conclude that he was the same.
It was a tenuous verdict, but weaker cases had been brought to court and led to convictions. Barring the discovery of further evidence, he - Paul Ballard - would consider himself an authentic version of himself.
He decided to treat himself to lunch.
He strode to the elevators, ignoring Echo who was staring at him with big wet eyes while the rest of the dolls grazed on their broccoli and tofu. Staff had always been subtly encouraged to dine at the 3rd floor bistro, but today he got out at the ground floor lobby and left the building. There was a taco place four blocks down on Mariposa Avenue, a hole in the wall with a county health department Grade C notice in the window and chimichangas to die for.